One of the most impressive games of Unreal Engine 4 in recent years, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice of Ninja Theory, seems to be an unlikely choice for a Switch conversion. Yes, the UE4 provided some excellent titles for the Switch, but the density of the original game would certainly cause problems for the Nintendo hybrid – after all, Hellblade is a game that has never been projected in a million years with a mobile chipset in mind. And yet, here it is: QLOC’s conversion work is fascinating, with some creative solutions implemented with excellent effect.
The first point of the data that caught our attention was the size of the game. Hellblade in the Switch weighs 19.5 GB, which is within the same level as the PC and PS4 versions – and yet it is clear that the port has substantially reduced texture features, which should result in a much smaller game. And yet, something is increasing the size of the download.
When you first started the port, first impressions were astonishing – our first look at Senua (captured in the first comparison image below) reveals a very close combination of the same sequence on the PlayStation 4. As the sequence continues, the engagements begin to become apparent – the resolution takes on a huge impact, of course, while the post-processing quality and active textures are clearly affected. And yet, many of the detail-rich kinematics seem devoid of commitment and behave in a much cleaner way than gameplay.
All of this brings us back to Hellblade’s 19.5GB download size and QLOC’s most impressive trick – seamless integration of FMV video sequences and real-time gameplay. While previous versions of the game rendered the whole experience in real time with Unreal Engine 4, Hellblade on the Switch pre-renders the heavy scenes and then literally mixes the video with the actual visuals of the game. The effect is quite subtle – and difficult to capture in portable mode – but it’s there. This is the trick that allows Hellblade’s most striking visual moments and the strongest narrative beats to run almost like the other versions. It calls it a trick, smoke and mirrors or whatever: the important thing is that it works.